Visiting Ghost Ranch in New Mexico

Ghost Ranch (U.S. 84, 505/685-1000), a 21,000-acre retreat owned by the Presbyterian Church, is best known because Georgia O’Keeffe owned a small parcel of the land and maintained a studio here. In the science world, it’s also known as the place where, in 1947, paleontologists combing the red hills discovered about a thousand skeletons of the dinosaur Coelophysis (“hollow form,” for its hollow, birdlike bones), the largest group discovered in the world.

The labyrinth at Ghost Ranch. Photo © Adam Springer/iStock.

Visiting Ghost Ranch

The grounds are open to day visitors ($5 suggested donation) for hiking. The best trek, which takes about two hours round-trip, is to Chimney Rock, a towering landmark with panoramic views of the entire area. Don’t be daunted—the steepest part of the trail is at the start—but do slather on the sunscreen, as there’s no shade on this route. Box Canyon is an easier, shadier, all-level walk that’s about four miles round-trip. Kitchen Mesa Trail, which starts at the same point, is much more difficult, requiring some climbing to get up the cliffs at the end (though you could hike the easy first two-thirds, then turn around).

view of Pedernal Peak and cabin at Ghost Ranch.
Pedernal Peak, seen from Ghost Ranch. Photo © Zora O’Neill.

Visitors can also see the Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology and the Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology (both 9am-5pm Mon.-Sat., 1pm-5pm Sun., $5), which display the local finds, including remnants of the prehistoric Gallina culture from the ridge above the valley and an eight-ton chunk of Coelophysis-filled siltstone in the process of being excavated. In summer, both museums are also open 1pm-5pm on Sunday.

Guided tours (various times, $25-35) of the ranch grounds run mid-March-November, on various topics, from local archaeology to movie settings. One walking tour visits O’Keeffe’s painting spot in the red Chinle hills behind the ranch. Horseback rides ($85) are another option, visiting various spots key to O’Keeffe’s painting life.

Steven Horak

About the Author

When Steven Horak uprooted his life in New York City to move to Santa Fe, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect, beyond a new home that would be very different from his old one. Even after a few years in New Mexico, his life is still an adventure. Each day begins and ends with views of the awe-inspiring Sangre de Cristo mountains, which serve as a constant reminder of what makes high desert living so special.

Steven’s wanderlust began during a year studying abroad at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Since then he has traveled extensively, contributing to travel guidebooks on Canada, Costa Rica, and the Czech Republic, among others. He also works as a journalist, communications specialist, and photographer.

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